Parents of young students ask me all the time, “How can I get my child to practice better/more/at all?” It is a question for which I still do not have a perfect answer; however, in my experience as a teacher, I have learned that a child’s practice ethic depends largely on the attitude of the parent.
Yes, the old adage is true: “practice makes perfect,” but I am going to put a big part of this responsibility on the parent. Not solely, of course, because a child, no matter what age, is not passive and should be doing the work him or herself. On the other hand, the parent, or parents, must play an active role in insisting on and sometimes, participating in, their child’s practice time.
If you are a parent, you most likely insist that your child does his homework for school, right? Perhaps you are lucky, and your child willingly does her homework without anyone even asking. If that is the case, you probably don’t need to read this article. But even enthusiastic young students don’t always want to do their homework. That’s when you have to step in a say, “no, you cannot play your video game until you’ve finished your homework.”
Why should music practice be any different? If you believe extracurricular music lessons, for which you may be paying several hundred dollars a month, is a “hobby,” and you’ll only pay for them if the child is “motivated” and “will practice,” then I encourage you to re-think your attitude. You have made a commitment of money and time to give your son or daughter music lessons. Your son or daughter, in turn, needs to understand this commitment and make the same him or herself. This commitment means practicing 20- 30 minutes a day at least five days a week (less for the very little ones). As someone who has learned music since a very young age, I can say that music is fun and rewarding. However, it is not always fun every single day. Music is also a discipline which requires constant work. It doesn’t matter if a child learns quickly or slowly; she will make progress with regular work. It’s just that simple.
So, what do you do? Well, what do you do when your child resists homework, or struggles with it? You help him. You somehow get it done, because it has to be done. Even if you don’t know music, you can still sit down with your child, look over his piece or music exercises, talk about it, and work with him until he gets it done. Gentle but firm, supportive but insistent. This is how I teach, and this is how you can support your young musician.
I am also a big believer in breaking things up; for example, perhaps your child can do a subject or two of homework, then work on her instrument for a few minutes (or ten), and then go back to homework. She can even take a break during practice; for example, work for five minutes on the instrument, take a break to do nothing (and I mean nothing), and then go back to practicing. Our brains need little rest breaks, you know.
Above all, do not expect your child, whether as young as 4 or as old as 16, to just go and practice enough every day. Simply put, kids do not usually know what is best for themselves, and they need supervision. It is up to you, the parent, to instill a positive attitude with regards to music.
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